Friday, September 3, 2010

A Sport That's (Definitely) Not Football

If you live in Central Pennsylvania and listen to WPSU-FM, you know that the Dragonfly's first mate likes to report on unusual sporting events, for a radio series called "Sports That Are Not Football." 

We docked last night in the historic town of Ottawa, Illinois (famous for hosting the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858), and this morning, at a local laundromat, the manager told me about the hottest new local sport.  It calls for the cool nerves and keen eye of a hunter combined the powerful biceps of a competitive weightlifter and the reflexes of a video-game addict.  The sport is Aerial Bowfishing for Asian Carp.

When we arrived in Ottawa last night, we took stroll along the marina breakwater before sunset.  The smooth surface of the water was pocked with dozens of odd little spots.  Squinting, we could see they were the round mouths of large fish that were gasping at the surface.  We peered closer.  Could it be? Yes indeed. There they were, in the flesh, swimming around our boat, the legendary fish we'd heard so much about--Asian carp.

As I noted in an earlier post, Asian carp, when startled by the sound of a boat engine, will launch themselves high out of the water--which is what they did this morning when boats started to leave the marina. This fish behavior can pose rather a hazard for boaters as 20-pound fish come flying over the gunwhales.  If you thought I was kidding about the advisability of wearing a helmet while boating, check out this video, filmed right here in Ottowa a few months ago, (although, warning for families, the narrative includes profanity). Starts slow, but wait till you see what happens one minute in.

It was only a matter of time before some inventive sporting types decided to turn the danger of flying fish into a sporting challenge--one that requires strength, fearlessness, knowledge of wildlife behavior, and superlative hand-eye coordination. We're talking shooting fish mid-air, with a bow and arrow.

I must emphasize, to all you Easterners reading this blog, that in describing bowfishing for carp as a hot new sport, I am not talking about one or two crazy guys.  Check this website full of bowfishing videos.  Check out this TV segment!  Target shooting for leaping carp as a leisure pastime seems to be expanding rapidly.

There ARE other ways to catch carp.  Recently here in Illinois, local wildlife management types experimented with controlling carp numbers by gill-netting.  They set big nets, pulled them in, and sorted through the flopping fish bodies to release the native species alive.   They're trying to work out a way to have the thousands of carp they catch turned into fertilizer.  Excellent idea!

At the same time, at least one enterprising entrepreneur has turned "bowfishing for carp" into a significant economic opportunity.  He's set himself up as a fishing charter captain, asking $1,000 a trip for sport fishermen (probably gullible rich guys from back east) who want to try their hand against the silver carp with a compound bow.

This enterprise strikes me as the epitome of American ingenuity.  If an invasive fish threatens to destroy local fishing opportunities, find the silver-carp lining in that cloud, and make some money off the thing.  Create a completely new sport that appeals to the modern American psyche--attracting rugged outdoorsmen and pale-faced videogamers alike.

If aerial bowfishing for carp really catches on, big time, think of what could happen.  I picture anglers flying in from all over the nation for this unique experience, just as they do for salmon in Alaska.  I imagine carp derbies, with trophies, and cash prizes, and special carp-fishing boats marketed by Cabelas, and other cool gear, like compound bows designed just for carp fishing, and high-tech helmets and body armor.

No bow needed: This kamikaze carp committed
suicide by leaping into our dinghy
The Olympics has skeet-shooting, so why NOT carpshooting?  Could this trend not spawn a national league?  With ESPN coverage, office pools, team logowear, lucrative endorsements for the angler-athletes?

And most importantly, if carp-shooting gets even more trendy, could it not only boost the local economy but (given the American propensity for doing things in a big way) also control carp populations, without all that tedious slimy fish sorting? Let's think outside the tackle box here, folks!

I'm waiting to see with happens, with baited breath.


  1. You got me for a minute... You're in Ottawa, Illinois. I was wondering how you (and the carp) got all the way back to Canada so fast!

  2. Bow hunting fish sounds interesting. I'd try it if onlly I still had my lemonwood bow from college and do it the old fashioned way.